Teaching Resources

Five Ways Common Curriculum Keeps Me Organized

Over the past two years I’ve had the distinctly gratifying and simultaneously terrifying experience of beginning my teaching career. As teachers, we begin our journey by assessing our learners and defining high growth targets, developing a robust arsenal of standardized less on plans and technology-aligned learning experiences, and creatively differentiating those activities for each of our students. Molding all of those goals into a comprehensive year-long curriculum is another challenge entirely. As it is with so many new educators, within weeks of beginning the school year I found myself lost in the abyss of faculty meetings, library resources, and professional development seminars – to say nothing of parent calls and meetings, progress monitoring, and the special education annual review process.cc-logo-ea8345429ede54f5e4d960950659bd25

Common Curriculum rescued me from uncharted territory. I had encountered CC early last summer buried in some random blog post or Pinterest board and, after giving it a shot this past year, I’m convinced I’ll never plan any other way. Common Curriculum focuses on the tactics of teaching: daily lesson plans. Scope and sequence mapping, unit plans, and inquiries obviously have their place in planning, but when it comes to actually crafting the minute-by-minute workings of the classroom, I found Common Curriculum to be invaluable to my own organization and my growth as an educator.

Here are five straightforward reasons you should consider getting an account:

1) It’s easy. Their website’s interface is simple and easy to navigate. After quickly setting up a Planbook you’re able to start tinkering around within a few minutes. Once you begin, you’ll notice that you can shift assignments around throughout your lesson, move them to a new day, or delete them entirely. If something comes up and you need to shift plans to the next day, CC allows it with the click of a button. Each day is totally customizable – including which classes you teach in a given day and the activities you plan for each period or block – meaning that you can implement your own style when designing your lessons. Creating these lessons is literally as easy as typing on your keyboard, and the web-based platform automatically saves your progress as you go. Upload files (just like you would to an email) and now your materials or resources are saved as well! Common Curriculum also links to my Google Drive, and seamlessly uploads materials I had already organized.

2) It’s safe. In addition to having my progress saved automatically, it’s highly comforting knowing that my curriculum isn’t living on a thumb drive or school-based software that can be discontinued next year if our district doesn’t renew our subscription. Like any geek, I live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, dwelling over whether or not my files are safe and accessible. Using Common Curriculum allowed me to save my work on the cloud, export it as an Adobe .pdf file, and still have it backed up on CC’s interface. My materials aren’t going to disappear from being lost, broken, or unsubscribed from. Relatedly, my lessons are saved so I can easily reference them next year, which also means next year I’ll be adapting my plans instead of starting from square one again. Some teachers have filing cabinets and drawers full of old handouts and workbooks that they’ve used (which is totally fine), but as a new teacher I have to admit that having every resource I used last year safely linked on a single document is pretty convenient.

3) It prompts me to use best-practices. When you begin setting up your Planbook you’ll be prompted to choose a lesson plan template for each course you teach. Some people like the Minimal template with the quick “Agenda” and “Notes” sections. Some people like the Basic or the 5E templates that each give a little more guidance when designing. Both of those are fine, and admittedly many of my own plans ended up utilizing the Minimal template, but what really intrigued me (and pushed me to write better lessons) was the Extra Detailed template. In this case the detailed sections include: Objectives, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Materials, Intro to New Materials, Direct Instruction, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, Extension, Assessment, Homework, Accommodations & Modifications, and Reflections. Obviously every lesson may not include all of those sections (CC allows you to delete, combine, substitute, or reorder them as necessary), but I found that something as simple as just having them listed as a rough guide reminded me to think about each one as I planned the daily activities of the classroom. My teaching improved because of this template.

4) It links to about a billion sets of standards. As I mapped out the skills, strategies, and content I wanted my students to explore, Common Curriculum helped me design my instruction to the specific standards aligned to my course. I teach social studies, so for me that meant the New York State Social Studies Framework’s Key Ideas, Conceptual Understandings, and Content Specifications, the New York State Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in Social Studies, the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework, as well as frameworks and standards to reference from the National Center for History in the Schools, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Standards for Arts Education, and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. All of these are available on Common Curriculum to reference and link to your daily lessons.  With a Pro or Schools account, teachers can even utilize a standards tracker to map course outcomes over the course of the school year.

5) It’s digitally accessible to my students. I can seamlessly export all of this to my students’ iPads, the classroom SMARTBoard, or any computer/laptop. As a Pro user, I’ve linked my lessons to a website that I share with my students. I can choose which sections are visible to them, allowing them to browse the lesson’s materials independently. If a student is late to class or misses school, they can review the materials on their own time using this resource. I can link assignments online for students to complete, whether they’re printed handouts, webquests, or simple instructions for classwork. This also allows students to access a visible agenda for class, even previewing future classes if I mark them as visible in the CC interface. Not only does this lead toward a paperless classroom – it prompts students to seek and utilize digital resources, a timeless and necessary skill to build in the digital age.


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Brain teaser resources








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Apps for Engagement

Originally printed in the September ’14 issue of Educational Leadership, found here (subscription required): http://www.educationalleadership-digital.com/educationalleadership/201409#pg13



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8 Steps to Great Parent-Teacher Communication

Originally found here: http://www.edudemic.com/8-steps-ensure-great-communication-parents/


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Updated Bloom’s Taxonomy with Verbs

bloom with verbs

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Seven Characteristics of a Digitally Competent Teacher


Full article here: http://www.edudemic.com/7-characteristics-digitally-competent-teacher/

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EdWeek: Want Passion? Re-Think the School Day

Guest post by Lauren Hill, English teacher at Western Hills High School, Frankfort, KY & Community Organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality

We all know school can bore students to death. OK, not actual death, but something that looks and feels much like it to a kid. Bill Ferriter reminds us in his blog, Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored, that students who follow their passions, learn. Yet, how can teachers carve out time in the school day to guide students through the thoughtful, and sometimes arduous task of finding those passions, much less to pursue them? The Common Core State Standards encourage the depth and discipline needed, but they must be supported by a restructured school day set up to infuse passion into our students.

In our adult work, we don’t do English or Science or Social Studies or Math. We use all of these (and many other dynamic elements) to create, to lead, to build, to manage, to sell, to understand our task and produce products that meet a need. Some of us even love our work – passionately. Do our young people deserve any less? What better model to prepare them to love their work in the future?

I first saw this approach when I was 15, which would make it 1981, when I visited The Urban School of San Francisco. My first impression? These teenagers looked like the kids my parents told me to avoid. Long hair. Lots of leather. Cigarettes. At my school, these kids cut class and hung out in the parking lot. Yet, at Urban, these kids adored school.

At Urban, instead of English, kids took “Utopian Societies” or “Dialects and Culture.” In the two-hour block I spent with my friend, I discovered more about language and history than I had in a year in my own high school classes. Teachers and students learned together in a collaborative environment where students took responsibility for their learning – and they took that responsibility very seriously.

We cannot restructure our way to many of the variables at The Urban School. The staff’s accepting attitude and the administration’s creative and effective approach to discipline, certainly created the environment that allowed for other academic gains. But what became a permanent part of my memory and later, my educational philosophy, was the school’s organization.

Our high school in Frankfort, KY, has begun movement in this direction by adopting a Senior Project that asks kids to begin freshman year uncovering interests and learning research skills, and culminating senior year with a project, paper, presentation and community outreach program. It is a solid start. But we can do better. We can devise new models like the public magnet Brown-Barge Middle School in Escambia County, Florida, which organizes staff into “streams” that teach students in thematically organized groups focused on engaging kids in work toward authentic simulations. Since the restructuring, Brown-Barge Middle has earned “A” level status for more than ten years in a row – the only middle school in the district to achieve this honor. Also, the number of 6th grade applicants doubles the available spots.

One BBMS eighth grader says:

The reason why our subjects are combined is to make it easier to learn at school, so easy that students might not realize we’re learning. Instead of learning by subjects, we learn by streams, which is basically learning big topics at a time. At the same time we’re learning all of the school traditional subjects. We have big topics which are broken into many lessons which is good for each subject. 

Teacher Lalla Pierce currently teaches in the Ancient Worlds stream, which is described like this: From earliest civilizations, recurring motifs have inspired great art, literature, drama, science, math and music. By making connections with the past, we begin to understand the universality of creative expression.

Mrs. Pierce says:

I love teaching at Brown-Barge Middle School because seeing students participating in simulations where they are fully engaged in the learning process is incredibly rewarding. Whether building a model of an outer-space colony or putting on a musical performance written by the students themselves, the process is fun and exciting! I am always learning, never bored. 

To create and cultivate this environment, the school has provided:

  • Streams built around teachers with a variety of certifications.
  • Teachers in each stream with a common planning time to collaborate around the stream.
  • Flexible scheduling within each stream to accommodate a project when it requires extended time with a teacher.
  • Teachers of Record who keep track of the work and maintain records for a group of students, who can see the bigger picture evolve and provide support.
  • Collaboration between teachers and students in the development of new streams that meet the interests of the students. (Most requested? History and culture of music, leading to a final performance.)
  • Evaluative reports that take the place of “in progress grades”.
  • Math every morning.

When teachers at Brown-Barge are asked what they teach, they say “Students!’

A new structure like this one that starts with real-life, project-based learning that flows in a natural, progressive stream is a shift that doesn’t require substantial funding, just ingenuity, persistence, and passion. And, given the education professionals I know, there is no shortage of that.

The Common Core State Standards present us with a blueprint for the natural integration of subjects at every grade level. It challenges us to reimagine how we organize our traditional schools. Student agency and depth of study can add the passion needed to make our students soar. The CCSS emphasize critical thinking and 21st Century skills and give us a strong foundation; now, let’s redesign our schools to make them worthy to stand on it.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy meets the internet

This is an extraordinary site that aligns layers of Bloom’s Taxonomy to digital websites and apps for students to use.

Browse the site: https://sites.google.com/site/bloomsdigitalwebtool/home

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Writing Tips: “How to write good”


Also see: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2013/07/ten_things_i_teach_about_writing.html113637_700b_v1

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Tell your students that hard work (not genetics) determines math ability! #edchat

The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math’ – Atlantic Mobile


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Education Week Spotlight on Literacy and the Common Core

EdWeek has assembled a 15-page document featuring a variety of articles on Literacy and the Common Core, available for download here:

Ed Week Spotlight – On Literacy and the Common Core – March 2013

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Editing and Proofreading Tips

Share this 5 page document from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina

Editing And Proofreading Tips

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Student: “Why do we have to write today?” (Responses Enclosed)

poetic article shared from Todd Finley at Edutopia


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ASCD Inservice Resource: Nervous About Your First Year Teaching?

Found the following article written by Tina Byland at the ASCD Inservice page.  Includes links to lots of ASCD resources including books, daily email briefings, magazine subscriptions, professional development tools, webinars, blogs, social networking sites, etc.  Admittedly its all from ASCD so its a bit of an advertisement, but its still full of good stuff.


New Teacher Supports from ASCD

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Video Games and Education: Primer Sources

I recently came across a handful of resources regarding learning through video games.  Anya Kamenetz at The Hechinger Report provides Four insights into the future of games and technology for learning, which reviews insights from an interview with James Paul Lee as well as an analysis from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.  Further writing from Kamenetz regarding game-making research is here and a video from Education Week on this topic is available here.

Each article also contains several links for further reading!



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Introducing: Learnist

New, big app for education, teaching, and learning.  I’ll soon be adding my learnist profile somewhere on this blog once I get going.  For now, check out the videos below to learn more.


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How to use Google Forms to create your own self-grading quiz


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How to use a rubric without stifling creativity (Grant Wiggins)

Tips from UBD author, Grant Wiggins


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5 minutes of inspiration from Ashton Kutcher

Anyone who misses this is really overlooking a golden piece of inspiration to share with students.

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Using Zombies to teach STEM (and other awesome zombie stuff)

I’m not a huge fan of FOX News, but this story caught my eye and I just had to read on.  Texas Instruments and The National Academy of Sciences have teamed to produce STEM Behind Hollywood, a series of highly entertaining activities aiming to facilitate real-world problem solving in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  The website for the project includes many activity plans which are accessible via download.


The project also uses superheros, forensic investigations, space inquiries, and neuroscience experiments to hook kids’ interest, but really it’s all about the zombies these days.  Speaking of zombies, I can’t help but mention two pieces of Zombie literature that are awesome resources to use in the social studies classroom.  The first is the novel (wayyyyy, wayyyyyy, indescribably better than the movie) World War Z, by Max Brooks.  The book is a series of interviews conducted by Max Brooks following a global war against zombies.  Brooks interviews a long list of exotic characters from around the world to gain a retrospect of the events that took place during and after the war.  A variety of (real-world) global conflicts are touched upon (i.e. Israel & Palestine, sex trafficking, rampant unrestrained consumerism, and Kashmir just to name a few…) within a narrative that will capture the attention of anyone remotely interested in the world around them.  I’d especially recommend the audiobook version, which used a different reader for each character.

I also must recommend Theories of International Relations and Zombies, by Daniel W. Drezner.  Although this is definitely an academic book, the topic brings a serious text within the grasps of accessibility to many adolescents.  To be sure, this is a type of book I’d only recommend to students who were already interested in the topic of global politics and/or international relations because hidden beneath the zombie narrative is a very clear analysis of real-world international relations theories.

As much as I admire the content and the analysis of theories, what really caught my attention with Drezner’s work was his incredible ability to organize an argument and convey it in concise yet highly elegant terms.  If I wanted to teach a kid who already likes social studies how to write more effectively, hands down this is the number one resource I would use.  This is a skill that (unfortunately) not enough adolescent students really excel at, and Drezner’s work provides us with an opportunity to teach students how to form a really fantastic argument.  Drezner’s own comments on this book, including how to use it in an undergraduate setting and how he managed to write it without “drowning in puns,” are available here.

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Sneak peak at common core-aligned assessments for 2014-15

“Smarter Balanced Practice Tests Help Teachers Prepare for the Common Core” http://feedly.com/k/11HVurF

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50 Little-Known Ways Google Docs Can Help In Education | Edudemic

This is another one of my favorite tools – makes group projects (out of the classroom) much easier for students


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20 Must-Have Educational Resources For All Teachers | Edudemic

Some of my favorites have made the list! Can’t wait to play brief clips of audio books to my students…Audible is the best


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Virtual Field Trip Resources | mattBgomez

Virtual field trips made easy..a collection of awesome resources to explore the world with!


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5 Free Twitter Curation Tools To Enhance Your PLN | Edudemic

Lots of potential for using social media in the classroom with these helpful tools


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24 Awesome Short Stories for Middle Schoolers


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Memes for Learning!


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“Educating yourself does not mean that you were stupid in the first place; it means that you are intelligent enough to know that there is plenty left to learn.”


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Getting Kids Engaged with Primary Sources | Cool Tools – The Digital Shift


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27 Ways to Greet Students (by Mia MacMeekin)

27 Ways to Greet Students (by Mia MacMeekin)

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Motivation/Encouragement poster for your classroom


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Writing poster for your classroom

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Proactive Solutions in Behavior Management

Both teachers and students face challenges in their classroom daily.  Difficulties in teaching and learning can stem from an infinite number of sources, but many can be prevented.  The Resource Center, of Chautuaqua County, New York, shares these tips for preventing issues when working with other individuals, especially children and people with disabilities.  So, before a situation grows out-of-hand, ask yourself these simple questions…

1.) Communication
-Have you offered an opportunity for the individual to communicate using objectives, signs, symbols, or speech, and have you responded positively?

2.) Choice
-Have you offered another activity and encouraged the individual to choose?

3.) Physical Needs
-Have you considered hunger, thirst, pain, heat, cold, tiredness, activity, or need of the toilet?

4.) Interaction
-Have you offered a change of staff member and responded to the need for attention?

5.) Therapeutic Alternatives
-Have you offered music, aroma therapy, or massage?

6.) Relaxation
-Have you tried deep breathing, slow breathing, or yoga?

7.) Calming Techniques
-Have you used verbal and non-verbal calming to include: reflection, empathy, reassurance, redirection, incentives, and rewards?

8.) Listening Techniques
-Have you listened, read the signs, picked up cues, and given prompts rather than hurrying to give advice?

9.) Sensitivity
-Have you helped restore the individual’s confidence and dignity by sensitivity rather than being confrontational and have you offered a constructive functional activity?v

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Online Resources for Teachers

I came across some older stuff worth sharing.  Check out the following links!

Best Websites for Teaching & Learning 2012

-American Association of School Librarians


The 100 Best Video Sites for Educators



7 Education ideas from unlikely places



X marks the spot: This week’s TEDx talks all about education




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What Literacy Is.

Flag Literacy Poster

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Some graphic organizers to use in your ELA classroom


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Teaching Joke of the Day

lesson plans

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Pass this on to your high school seniors!

“Reboot Your Education Like An Entrepreneur – Forbes” http://feedly.com/k/YMo1LA

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More than “just” a teacher…

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“Teaching About The Wars”: New Curriculum from Rethinking Schools By Felicia Gustin

“ZCommunications | “Teaching About The Wars”: New Curriculum from Rethinking Schools by Felicia Gustin | ZNet Article” http://feedly.com/k/Zsu5LM

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Rethinking Schools & Zinn Education doing more amazing work

“Politics of Naming” http://feedly.com/k/Y2GZ14

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A simple idea for enhancing student writing

I might adapt this slightly for a high school classroom; perhaps to a notebook page we could return to throughout the year as we build the list.


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Classroom management 101


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Teaching Historical Thinking to 10th Graders Through Photography [feedly]


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Jill Petzinger: Communist monopoly teaches downside of socialist life

A thoughtful method for hands-on learning.


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Being a new teacher


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